The addictive app saving Aussie wildlife
TAPPING away on her phone, Chelona resident Jill MacDonald is helping save some of Australia's smallest creatures.
Using the app QuestaGame, Ms MacDonald helped scientists and conservationists map out ant colonies around Cairns.
In October, the Wet Tropics Management Authority launched their BonANTza competition, encouraging people to take photos and identify ants in the region - including the infamous invasive pest, the yellow crazy ant.
Despite being more than 700km south, Ms MacDonald was the top ant identifier, swiping through hundreds of ant photos over the month-long mission.
For Ms MacDonald the game was captivating as well as educational.
"It's like the Pokemon Go game crossed with a David Attenborough adventure," she said.
When she first opened the app in March, Ms MacDonald said she was shocked to find children as young as eight finding, identifying - and even discovering new species.
Ms MacDonald said the citizen science project had created a national map of biodiversity - from the national parks to people's backyards.
With her two sons, Callum MacDonald, 16, and Mitchell MacDonald, 12, glued to their screens inside the house, Ms MacDonald said the game was the perfect excuse to get outside.
The family of amateur biologists soon discovered a new way to explore the Mackay region.
Their walks were soon dominated by spotting insects, fungus and different plants, Ms MacDonald said.
"You start to look at things through different eyes," she said.
When the BonANTza quest appeared on her screen, Ms MacDonald said she jumped at the opportunity to use her skills as a former Department of Primary Industries officer to identify the ants in Cairns.
With yellow crazy ants discovered for the first time at Shute Harbour in July, Ms MacDonald said mapping the Cairns colonies was key to saving the Mackay region.
"We need to know what's going on up there. This could happen to us, the yellow crazy ants or the red ants from down south," she said.
WTMA executive director Scott Buchanan said it was citizen scientists like Ms MacDonald who were protecting the delicate biodiversity of North Queensland.
'The more information we have about our natural ant biodiversity and discovering new locations of yellow crazy ants, the closer we will get to achieving eradication," Mr Buchanan said.
In the quest 16 different species of ants were found. The program also raised $2141 for the Invasive Species Council.
For being the top ant identifier, Ms MacDonald won a two-person tour to the reefs off Cairns.